By Sophie Benjamin
I finished high school absolutely certain that I was going to be a professional musician for the rest of my life. Three years later, I’d decided that I didn’t want to spent the rest of my life poor, permanently hungover and stuck in a Tarago, playing shitty dives with even shittier bands.
So, I decided to become a journalist.
I began my journalism degree during the GFC, when jobs were disappearing and future predictions were grim. The lecturer of my foundation journalism subject told us sternly not to coast through the degree expecting to walk into a job, because in three years time there mighn’t be any jobs to walk in to.
I graduated from my journalism degree in December with job offers from three major national print, broadcast and online media outlets. Journalism grads with any job offers at all are pretty rare, and I know people who are bright, talented and have better GPAs than me who remain unemployed.
In a way I guess I’m lucky, but I have learned some lessons on my way to employability. Here are my tips for students who’d like to land a job as a journalist at the end of their degree.
Look for stories before you look for jobs.
Journalism is about telling stories, so get into the habit of looking for them everywhere you go.
Talk to people, keep an eye on Twitter and Facebook, look at local bulletin boards… soon you’ll start seeing them everywhere. Start consuming media voraciously – online news, local tabloids, national broadsheets, talk radio and TV bulletins. You’ll learn what separates great stories from average ones, and the best ways of telling them.
Work out where your interests and passions lie. You can pick up the skills from there.
No matter what industry you’re in, it’s very hard to do the ladder-climbing slog if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing. I’ve always been passionate about rural areas and the possibilities of online journalism, and that’s mostly where I’ve concentrated my efforts. I started my degree with an interest in online news and a strong aversion to seeing my own face on camera. This is still generally where my interests lie, but I’m glad I tried other things.
My first stint of unpaid work experience was with the ABC in Rockhampton on the programs production desk. My degree was very news focused, so the opportunity to learn how to put together radio packages and programs was invaluable, and in the process I found something I really enjoyed doing. Now I work as a cross-media reporter, which allows me to make audio and video packages without having to do pieces-to-camera. Win all around.
Take advantage of your student status and get as much practical experience in as many different fields as you can.
For many, the best part of being a student is getting ‘study money’ from Centrelink in the form of Youth Allowance or Austudy. The eligibility requirements change from year to year, but it’s definitely worth signing up for if possible.
For the first half of my degree, I did unpaid work experience while funding my existence with a combination of Youth Allowance and hospitality work. It is almost impossible to get paid work without having some unpaid work under your belt. Working for free sucks, so the sooner you can get that out of the way, the better.
I did unpaid stints at rural newspapers, community and major metropolitan radio stations and a music PR firm. I was pleasant, worked harder than I needed to and asked questions about the stories, the work, the career paths of certain staff members and did anything I could to help the staff… including getting coffee and doing mail runs.
By second year I was able to leave my barmaid job, because I’d got my name out there as someone whose work was worthy of payment. With my study allowance covering rent, bills and enough food to keep me alive, I wrote articles for street press and magazines, copy for advertising agencies and press releases and media kits for bands and artists. I also picked up a couple of temporary jobs with the ABC, which helped to tide me through leaner periods. Freelancing is hard, but it made me appreciate the value of my work and the importance of creating good relationships with the people you work with.
It’s worth mentioning that the degree I did has a strong practical focus and runs excellent in-house TV and Radio praxis for their students.
Be open to working in rural and regional areas.
All the people from my degree who are landing jobs are landing them in regional areas.
If you come from a rural or regional area, you’ve got a head start on the city kids. Regional bureaux are almost always understaffed, and they’re much more likely to give the work experience kid a go, if they’ve got a particularly bright and energetic one.
There are plenty of stories outside the metropolitan areas, and often country people are more helpful and willing to speak to you than city-dwellers. You’ll have fun and learn a lot, and starting off in the regions doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Most of the people in top-notch journo jobs started in non-metro areas.
*Don’t worry too much about your grades.*
Unlike degrees like law or medicine, your future job prospects aren’t directly tied with your GPA. I spent time I could’ve spent on turning in perfect assignments doing work experience and the like. I graduated with a horrible GPA, but three job offers.
Keep plugging away until you get what you want.
It’s a hard slog to get them, but there are definitely jobs in journalism out there for people who are smart, passionate and hungry for them. Don’t wait until third year – start getting your chops up now.
Guest post by Sophie Benjamin
Sophie Benjamin is a recent graduate of the Queensland University of Technology’s Journalism program. She works as a Community Editor and multimedia journalist with APN Online, based in the regional city of Toowoomba. www.sophiebenjamin.com / @sophbenj